The Verdict


‘…still works, largely due to Newman’s untypical performance that drives the narrative beyond character study to high drama…’

Barry Reed’s courtroom novel was published in 1979, and was immediately recognised as blockbuster material; stars like Cary Grant eyed a potential comeback as the alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin, a role played by Paul Newman in an Oscar-nominated turn that really should have been a winner. A tight package was assembled around the star, with Sidney Lumet directing from a terse David Mamet script; The Verdict is old-school Hollywood caught in the act of sobering up.

Frank Galvin is past his best; the NYC lawyer is a drunken mess, who can’t even keep the shakes at bay for long enough to down a shot, and whose idea of rehab is dropping a raw egg into his glass. Galvin’s former partner Mickey (Jack Warden) drops a slam-dunk medical malpractice case in his lap; a young mother admitted to a Catholic hospital ended up in a coma, and a settlement is in the offing. But much as Elliot Ness is transformed by a mother’s request in Mamet’s script for The Untouchables, Galvin’s conscience and humanity is awakened by the case, and he resolves to fight it all the way to the verdict of the title.

‘You can’t fight City Hall,’ is the mantra of the lawyers assembled here; the odds are stacked against Galvin from the get-go. Toweringly professional defence lawyer Edward Concannon (James Mason) has a team of pros at his disposal, as well as a spy in Galvin’s camp in the form of Charlotte Rampling. “Why are you doing this?’ is the question Galvin is asked; ‘To do the right thing, isn’t that why you’re doing it?’ comes the answer, and it’s not just about money or even justice; Galvin’s redemption as a person is at stake.

The Verdict builds patiently to a finale that’s changed from the book, but still works, largely due to Newman’s untypical performance that drives the narrative beyond character study to high drama. ‘You said if not now, when.’ Galvin complains to Mickey, only for the older man to answer ‘Not now…’ Mamet’s gift for capturing the way men talk is heavily in evidence. Mamet’s unforgiving animosity towards his female characters, however, feels like a flaw from a 2022 perspective, but at least The Verdict wears its scars with some pride. The only weakness would be that Lumet’s film is not quite as good as the book it’s based on; Reed’s impeccable novel would be worth reviving today, since this powerful film is only one way through the moral labyrinth the text describes.


Leave a Reply
  1. It’s been many many years since I’ve seen this – I had it on a VHS tape, recorded from BBC 2. Interesting that Mamet has dated; I find it difficult not to reconsider his golden years given the monster he’s sadly become, looking for early signs. Mostly his stuff holds up very well though, though. His characters say everything twice, they say everything twice, his characters. I’ve got to rewatch this.

    • That repetition was part of made his dialogue sing, the rhythm, the way it made his dialogue sing…he’s a bit of a fallen hero now, went to see him at EIFF and he was awesome, swatting down questions like Kong swatting planes. But he seems to have lost all direction now, and like you, I can’t stop seeing the signs of his decline in his early work…this is a good film, but the treatment of the female characters is not great at all…

  2. It was meant to be Redford but he refused to play a drunk. Never read the book but do remember this as a terrific movie on several counts, including the exposing of the medical cover-ups and the way the lawyers played along. Newman and Mason brilliant adversaries.

Leave a Reply